ESTA Travel Blogs

29 Mar

A culinary tour of the USA – Part Three

ESTA Travels
In this past month we’ve been on quite a tour of American cuisine, trying to identify which foods and products have really made their mark in recent gastronomic tendencies in the USA.

Of course, traveling to the USA with ESTA, this tour could only last 90 days, but there is still so much to taste! Remember, as a citizen of a country that is a member of the Visa Waiver Program, you can travel to the USA with ESTA, without the need to follow the traditional application process of applying for a visa. Instead, the online ESTA application process takes place digitally, with no need for meetings or snail mail. You can apply for ESTA online anytime before traveling, but it’s good to do so with a bit of notice. Nevertheless, once you’ve completed the ESTA application, you’ll receive your approval status within 24 hours, direct to the email address you provide during the process.

So, before we start the pairing, let’s recap a little what’s been a success! First things first, the hamburger proved particularly popular. Despite establishing that it may not be American at all, the USA have certainly adopted this as one of their national dishes, as seen with the emergence of a plethora of fast food restaurants, many of which are completely domestic (as well as the East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry in terms of the best burger joint!).

We accompanied the burger with some French/American fries, which we established to have actually originated in Belgium. Once our hunger had returned, we decided to fill the void with a good ol’ American steak. Whilst this was delicious, we needed to march on. Pizza was next on the menu, having been taken and adapted from Italian recipes. We noted that pizza has many different variations between states, let alone between countries, and settled on a New York slice to calm the hunger until reaching for a bagel. The bagel was probably Polish, but we accepted it as being quintessentially American. We headed down south for a taste of Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex and Tex-Jex (what’s next!?), and decided to finish the savory section of the meal with a hearty clam chowder in Boston.

After what was arguably the largest Pan-American dinner in the world, we needed a breather before moving onto the desserts! As a blend of sweet and savory, we sampled some American pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, and then swiftly moved on to Krispy Kreme donuts, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and ‘fluffernutters’.

So, with all that salt and sugar, how on earth can one be expected to get through it without some liquid relief? Let’s take a look at wine and beer in the USA, so that we can all sit down for a civilized meal...


Wine in the USA

Well known as a wine producer, the country has in fact been making wine for over three centuries. Whilst we recognize that Californian wine is what we see most in the rest of the world, wine is actually produced in all 50 American states. There are over 3,000 vineyards in the USA at present and, after France, Italy and Spain, it is currently the fourth-largest wine producing country on a global level.

With so many quality grapes around, the majority of wine consumption in the USA is domestic. In fact, around 70% of wine consumed is produced on their own soil.

Though we may associate other countries with wine before conjuring up the image of the States, it’s a curious fact that the first Europeans to explore the continent called it ‘Vinland’, owing to the abundance of grape vines found there. This was a Viking expedition from Greenland, but unfortunately the name did not stick.

We mentioned California, and indeed it is where the majority of wine is produced. In fact, 88% of US wine production takes place in California. The major production regions there are the Napa Valley, particularly well known for its Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel, and its neighbor, Sonoma Valley. Sonoma Valley is recognized as being the place where winemaking in California actually originated, though it no longer has the same level as production as Napa.

Surprisingly, after California, the state that produces the most wine in the USA is Washington. Still on the same coast, Washington has long specialized in white wines. Nevertheless, in the 1990s, the country, and indeed the world, became obsessed with Merlot, and so the state followed suit. Wines from this north-west area of the country tend to be particularly fruity and rather acidic. Perhaps equally surprising, New York comes third in the ranking of total wine production in the United States, specializing mostly in white, sparkling wines, as well as several other varieties.


Beer in the USA

For those who are less keen on wine, rest assured, the USA are just as passionate about beer. Astonishingly, the country produces close to 200 million barrels of beer per year. In the context of the colonial era, beer was very much a part of American lifestyle, and has continued to be so.

American lager is the most commonly produced and consumed beer in the country. Essentially it is a pale lager, which is somewhat weaker than a lot of Europe’s production. Nevertheless, as we have seen on a global level, particularly in the last few years, the craft beer market has gone from strength to strength. Though it still only occupies around 11% of the country’s entire beer production, much of it is renowned internationally, and much of it is exported.

Now, the most typical beers in the USA, as well as American lager, were traditionally various forms of ale (amber and cream), as well as ‘California Common’. Since the craft beer revolution, it’s now very common to see American Pale Ale, American IPA, India Pale Lager and Black IPA. The palette is clearly developing!

To what do we owe this seemingly recent surge of craft breweries in the USA? It’s easy to highlight the trend of so-called hipterism, but in fact the origins go back far longer. First of all, it’s worth mentioning what’s classified as a ‘craft’ beer. Basically, a beer can be called ‘craft’ if it is mostly independent from external corporate ownership, if the brewery produces fewer than six million barrels annually, and if is made of traditional ingredients (although newer ingredients can be used to enhance the flavor). But, the true reason for the emergence of craft beer brings us back to the early twentieth century…



Prohibition in the USA basically banned alcohol in the country. The ban lasted for 13 years, between 1920 and 1933, and was the result of a combination of events. In the most part, it came down to rural Protestants and social progressives who believed it was a socially unacceptable part of US culture; alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling addiction and other problematic social areas all had their place in painting the social picture at the time.

So, how does this relate to craft breweries? Well, naturally, owing to the government ban, the vast majorities of breweries in the USA had to close down. When, arguably, the prohibition essentially failed, only the large breweries were able to resume business. These breweries are still the most commercially successful in the States, however the new breweries that emerged were, naturally, smaller. So, many of the small breweries that we now associate with ‘hipster’ export products in bars around the world, actually originated in the post-prohibition era.

As well as the effect on beer production, the Prohibition vastly changed tastes in wine. By the 30s, people wanted sweeter wines, as opposed to the dry produce from before the ban. Many of the most reputable winemakers had died by the time the Prohibition needed, and of course vineyards had been neglected. New tastes and new produces are what paved the way to the major success that is the American wine market today.

Hopefully with a glass of wine or American beer will quench your thirst when working your way through the rather extensive list of foods you’ll been sampling on your next trip to the USA. Remember, in order to travel to the USA as a tourist, or on business, you need to apply for ESTA online in advance. The online ESTA application takes process can be completed within around 10 minutes, and you’ll just need to have your passport handy. Make sure your passport is valid, as the ESTA is only valid when your passport is in date. You’ll receive your official ESTA approval status within 24 hours, allowing you to head over to the States immediately and grab a menu!


Tuck in!